|Jimmy Stewart as Bailey in the original "It's A Wonderful Life"|
Christmas Eve, 2013: snow was falling fast in the small town of Leftford Falls, the stores were packing up for Christmas and Edward Bailey – known to his friends as Ed, and his detractors as “Red Ed” – had finished work for the day at his little family savings-and-loan business.
It had been a very difficult year: the business had been established a hundred years before, to provide help to “the many not the few”, as its slogan ran. This Christmas, it was just about keeping its head above water, in troubled economic times.
Meanwhile Lennie M. Potter, the power-hungry boss who owned half of Leftford Falls, was cooking up a plan to secure the one piece of the town he had never yet managed to get hold of – Bailey’s company.
Seeing that the savings-and-loan was in difficulties, Potter had decided to turn the screws further by declining to cooperate in Bailey’s clever new scheme to save his little business. The scheme was a bit complicated to explain, but Bailey’s idea was that the company would get more money, more power would go to ordinary people and less to Potter. Potter, needless to say, disagreed.
In fact, Bailey had never ventured much outside of his neighbourhood of Leftford Falls, because he always had the fear that, when he came back, Potter would have taken over the whole place.
To cap it all, Bailey’s own bank – a co-operative enterprise headed by the clownish “Uncle Billy” Flowers – had just gone bankrupt. Indeed, thanks in part to the foolish actions of uncle Billy, the financial base of the whole savings-and-loan business was now at risk.
So, on that last evening before the holidays, everything had come to a head. There was only one thing for it: he would have to go cap-in-hand to Potter, and beg him for a loan to get his business back on the straight and narrow. Surely Potter would see that ordinary people would be better off that way? He couldn’t see Bailey go to the wall, could he? It was Christmas, after all.
Walking into Potter’s office, he couldn’t help but be momentarily distracted, as he recognised his stocky bodyguard. Didn’t he used to work in his own savings-and-loan, once upon a time? And hadn’t he left in strange circumstances? He stared at him, feeling suddenly off-balance. But the bodyguard said only one thing: “I think you’ve made a big mistake, Mr Bailey”. And then fell silent, glowering.
Bailey looked back at Potter and put on a brave face, but had an overwhelming feeling of having entered the lion’s den.
You want a what?” laughed Potter, hearing his request. “A loan? You’ve got to be kidding”.
“But in September, you said…”
“In September I said nothin’. You got yourself into this mess, Eddie boy. Now you get yourself out.”
He folded his arms and sat back in his chair, puffing on an over-sized cigar. Potter knew he had the key to unlock the problem, and had sat on it. And of course, if Bailey failed, someone else would just have to take control of the business…
“Get yourself out, if you can, that is”, and he smiled a rather unfriendly smile. “We’d hate for you to, you know, lose everything over this”.
Bailey pulled together what was left of his dignity, thanked Mr Potter politely and strode out defiantly into the snow, pretending to have many other avenues to pursue.
As he sat in a nearby bar with a large whisky, going over events in his mind, he thought, how could Potter care so little about the people of the town? How could he himself have ended up here, so unsure of his next move, his whole future on the line? And what would become of the savings-and-loan business, and the people of the town, if he failed?
But it was not over yet. The future was as yet unwritten and there was still time to fix things. If he could just find the way…
This post first published at Labour Uncut